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Eastern Iowa braces for economic impact of road projects

March 11, 2018

MAQUOKETA, Iowa (AP) — Two road projects have forced the closure of a state park and blocked connections to a Mississippi River bridge, resulting in an abrupt drop in tourism in eastern Iowa.

Jackson County was already bracing for this year’s closure of the Maquoketa Caves State Park, which is necessary to replace a road and upgrade electrical services, the Telegraph Herald reported . But the economic impact is compounded by a small bridge near Sabula that unexpectedly closed for safety issues this month.

Access to the popular caves and park shut down Feb. 5, and is anticipated to last through August.

Dave Heiar, director of Jackson County Economic Alliance, said the park and caves are the biggest tourism engines in the area.

“The numbers that the park ranger shares with us is it’s between 250,000 and 300,000 visitors a year they have there,” he said.

The bridge is expected to stay closed until late May. The small Sabula bridge closure cuts off access to a larger U.S. 52/Illinois 64 bridge over the Mississippi River. Motorists wanting to travel from Sabula’s island community to Savanna, Illinois, or vice versa, will now have to deal with a 36-mile detour.

“The Sabula bridge scenario, it’s more than just tourism,” said Heiar. “There are people who use that bridge, that road to get to work on a daily basis.”

Sabula’s limited amenities make Savanna, Illinois, a popular destination.

“Most people in Sabula do their shopping in Savanna,” said Sabula City Council Member Rich Epich. “That’s out of the question (now).”

Epich also said that flooding could throw a wrench into the bridge closure timeline.

“I think it all depends if we flood this year because I think that will slow down construction quite a bit if it floods,” Epich said. “May is probably optimistic.”

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